What are trade barriers?

Trade barriers unjustifiably prevent your business succeeding in exporting. You may have different ways of describing them. They all mean the same thing.

They’re often called:

  • red tape
  • roadblocks to export
  • price controls
  • subsidies
  • government rules/procedures
  • arbitrary rules and decisions
  • goods delayed at the border
  • hold-ups at Customs
  • container stuck on the wharf
  • biosecurity rules
  • restrictions on repatriating profits
  • local ownership rules
  • a cost of doing business.

Types of trade barriers: tariff and non-tariff

Tariff barriers can include a customs levy or tariff on goods entering a country and are imposed by a government. Free trade agreements seek to reduce tariff barriers.

You can see what reductions may apply to your products  from New Zealand’s free trade agreements at the Tariff Finder(external link) 

Non-tariff barriers can include excessive red tape, onerous regulations, unfair rules or decisions, or anything else that is stopping you from competing effectively.

Non-tariff barriers can affect all forms of goods and services exports – from food and manufactured products, through to digital services.

Examples of barriers

  • administrative procedures

  • quantity restrictions (such as quotas)

  • licensing requirements

  • data storage requirements

  • privacy requirements

  • board director requirements

  • procurement rules

  • price controls

  • subsidies

  • product labelling requirements

  • phytosanitary or technical regulations and standards.

We may be able to find a solution if you register the barrier.

Register a trade barrier(external link)

Government agencies may be able to reduce, resolve or even prevent them from happening. There are several ways this may be done - government officials can talk through the issues with overseas agencies; or, longer-term, free trade agreement negotiations can be held.

Some barriers can be cleared up quickly, but others can take several years to resolve. It depends on their nature and the willingness of the foreign partner to sort them out. Some may never be resolved for reasons beyond New Zealand’s control.

Sometimes regulations exist for good reasons – for example, to protect public health or the environment.  In those cases, foreign governments may agree that New Zealand’s regulations provide equivalent protection. Or they may improve their regulations so they meet their purpose without impeding free trade.


Watch: What is a non-tariff barrier?

Watch: Helping exporters overcome non-tariff barriers

Receiving alerts for possible trade barriers

You can sign up to receive alerts from the World Trade Organisation when another country is proposing a new regulation that could affect your exports.

These potential barriers to trade, notified through this system, include product labelling, testing, certification, registration and food safety requirements.

You can sign up at ePing(external link), and tailor your alerts to particular products or particular countries.

If you are alerted to a proposed requirement that might adversely affect your exports to that market, you can contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade by email: exports@mfat.net

Non-tariff measures

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) also provides background on non-tariff measures. Non-tariff measures are regulations put in place for good reasons. Understanding these may also help you understand the issues you face.

UNCTAD: Non-tariff measures data(external link)

The Integrated Intelligence Portal (I-TIP) is a single entry point for information  compiled by the World Trade Organisation.

I-TIP: Trade in goods(external link) 

I-TIP: Trade in services(external link)

Customs help for exporters

If you're experiencing export issues such as border clearance, tariff classification, and rules of origin, contact New Zealand Customs.

Secure Exports Scheme(external link)

Free trade agreement interactive guides(external link)

New Zealand Customs factsheets(external link)

Help for small business

Business.govt.nz is the first stop online for Kiwi small business. It is designed to save small businesses time and help them succeed.

The site brings together key guidance from across government and the private sector, and is built with small businesses in mind. Go to business.govt.nz(external link) now and join the quarter of a million Kiwi businesses that use its tools and resources each month. 

Meeting market regulatory requirements

Food exported overseas should also comply with any additional importing country requirements where they are known.

Understanding what importing country requirements need to be met often involves liaising with an overseas agent or importer to obtain advice in meeting market requirements. This may include obtaining an import permit, or registering as an exporter in the destination country or providing additional documentation where required.

The Ministry for Primary Industries can assist in providing general guidance on market requirements where it is known for certain products.

This includes For Your Information (FYI)(external link) documents intended to provide general market guidance on exporting issues.